PESHAWAR: At least 1091 illegal marble factories are operating in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa without getting NOCs from the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), while 133 factories have the NOC from the environment agency.
The illegal factories are causing air, water, noise pollution in the province. The factories’ waste has destroyed the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of farmers because illegal factories are causing irreparable damage to fertile agricultural lands. Heavy metal was also found in the blood of the factories’ workers during research. The huge marble dust and noise lead to health hazards like respiratory (breathing or lung) diseases like asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and lungs cancer in the long term.
According to EPA data, there are 197 marble factories in Peshawar and only one factory has been issued formal approval while the rest are operating illegally. Around 205 illegal factories are operating in Mardan without any NOC and not a single factory has fulfilled EPA formalities. The District Khyber has 200, Charsadda 64, Nowshera 80 and Swabi 12 factories.
However, all are operating illegally. At least 85 marble factories are functioning in the Hazara Division but none has any NOC from the EPA. At least 30 factories in the Malakand Division are operating illegally without any NOC. There are 375 factories in the Malakand Division out of which 243 are illegal whereas only 132 have NOC. Similarly, six factories are operating illegally in DI Khan.
Director-General EPA Shafiullah told this scribe that the marble units are regulated under Section-11 & 13 of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Environmental Protection Act 2014.
The marble factories are a direct source of water, air and noise pollution. The EPA regularly monitors marble units and regulates them as per law. Around 205 marble units have been monitored and 149 cases against the owner have been prosecuted before the Environmental Protection Tribunal (EPT), Peshawar.
“The mushroom growth of marble factories on the Warsak Road, Peshawar, is without EPA approval because of ambiguity in the legal framework which has now been cleared in the recently-notified Environmental Assessment Rules 2021. Presently, the agency assists the Peshawar High Court and the Environmental Protection Tribunal in marble-related cases and the EPA stance is to implement the relevant provision of law in letter and spirit,” he said, adding that legal action is in the pipeline to bring the hazardous and illegally operating units under the environment-friendly legal regime. A sample was taken from the M/S Junidia Marble Factory and three tests including TSS, TDS, and COD were performed. About 2500 TSS parameters were found with a limit of only 200. The other two tests were found normal. Similarly, Ghani Marble’s TSS parameter was found 2730 instead of 200 limits.
Sajjad Khan, chairman of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Marble Industries Development Association, told The News that the owners of 3500 units in the province are their members and all issues are discussed with the government but the implementation process is slow. “Bringing marble industries together in an industrial estate in each city will solve all problems. All owners will create dumping sites and then collect and dispose of their waste,” he said. However, he denied reports about diseases among workers and said that water is used in marble factories so there is no question of dust rising. “The government takes heavy taxes but does not solve our issues, that is why the owners are on strike in the province,” he said.
Gul Roz Khan, president of KP Marble Mines and Mineral Association, Malakand, revealed that there are about 5000 marble factories and crushing plants in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, of which 60% are in Buner and 10% each in Mohmand and Mardan districts. “Some of them have dumping sites for effluents. These factories are not polluting the air because of the use of water. As many as 75000 workers are directly employed by this industry while several hundreds are engaged indirectly with the marble industry,” he said.
The convener of Sarhad Conservation Network (SCN) and Peshawar Clean Air Alliance (PCAA), Dr Adil Zareef said the dumping of the marble scrap and waste into agricultural land and irrigation channels chokes irrigation channels, destroying aquatic life in water canals, which is an irreparable loss. Moreover, the huge marble dust and noise lead to health hazards like respiratory (breathing or lung) diseases like asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and lungs cancer in the long term.
A study published by the Environmental Technology and Innovation in 2019 revealed that physicochemical parameters and heavy metals (HM) are found in marble industrial effluents as well as in the blood of workers in the marble industries in the Mardan Industrial Estate.
A total of twelve samples were collected from industrial effluents and seven samples of blood were collected from healthy workers of different marble units on a volunteer basis. Water samples were collected for analysis of physicochemical parameters such as electrical conductivity (EC), PH, turbidity, sodium (Na), potassium (K), calcium, hardness, chloride, magnesium (Mg), and heavy metals, that is Copper (Cu), Manganese (Mn), Zinc (Zn) and Arsenic (As), and compared with the National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS) of World Health Organization.
Blood samples from the marble industry workers were collected for the analysis of HM i.e. Cu, Mn, Zn, and bioaccumulation. The results showed that most of the samples showed higher physicochemical parameters with respect to the permissible limit set by the NEQS of WHO, 2010. Similarly, HM in water as well as in workers’ blood also revealed higher values than the permissible limit concentrations set by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA), Occupational Health and Safety Division (OHSD) and Agency for Toxic substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), USA.
In Pakistan, the estimated marble reserves are more than 300 billion tons. During the fiscal year 2016–2017, 4.9 million tons of marble were produced in Pakistan, of which more than 2.97 million tons were produced in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 1.92 million tons in Balochistan. The factories in Pakistan utilize water for the cutting of marble stones, which in turn generates a lot of waste marble slurry. Upon drying this slurry turns into waste marble.
Marble reserves of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa contribute 97% to the country’s marble deposits. These marble processing units (MPUs) are scattered out in the province that generate a large quantity of waste in the form of irregular marble stone pieces and marble slurry.